‘Unfrosted’: Jerry Seinfeld is the champion of breakfast

Jerry Seinfeld in ‘Unfrosted’
Jerry Seinfeld in ‘Unfrosted’


Jerry Seinfeld's directorial debut is a silly, sugary film about an (entirely make-believe) origin story of the Pop-Tart

I have never eaten a Pop-Tart.

A breakfast pastry heated in a toaster, this was one of those 1960s cereal innovations that never quite found its way to India. When flashy cereal boxes started appearing on our shelves in the 1990s, we got some of the basics—like chocolate and sugar-covered Kellogg’s—while fancier stores featured rows of imported cereal boxes (including the Flintstones-branded “Fruity Pebbles" that I coveted) that were preposterously overpriced. Yet even without having tasted one, I know what a Pop-Tart is, primarily because the hitman Vincent Vega died for one in Pulp Fiction.

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Pop-Tarts are all over pop culture. Eleven from Stranger Things loves them, saying, “They’re so delicious, but not very nutritious"; Jonah Hill in Superbad says, “Pop-Tarts are for closers"; the Clint Eastwood character in Rango says Heaven would be where “we’d be eating Pop-Tarts with Kim Novak"; and Joey Tribbiani of Friends called them the “breakfast of champions".

Now comes Unfrosted, a Netflix movie where Jerry Seinfeld makes his directorial debut. As a stand-up comedian, Seinfeld has long been fixated with the absurdities of breakfast cereal and has always made jokes about the same. “You know you’re getting older," he’d said in his 1998 special I’m Telling You for the Last Time, “when you buy breakfast cereal and you’re not doing it for the prize inside." Now, seemingly on a whim, he has concocted this silly, sugary film about an (entirely make-believe) origin story of the Pop-Tart.

In this world, there is a space-race for the next breakfast novelty, and the Cuban Missile Crisis has to do with illegal shipments of sugar. It’s an utterly ludicrous film, full of famous comedians and star-studded cameos, with Seinfeld at his goofiest. Written by Seinfeld along with Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin—with whom he also wrote the 2007 animated film Bee MovieUnfrosted feels like a comedic sketch (imagine if the Pop-Tart was one of America’s greatest and most important inventions) stretched too long. Yet, in an odd and affectionate way, the film does tickle.

Take Seinfeld himself, for instance. Playing Kellogg’s executive Bob Cabana, his love for cereal is all-consuming. “The magic of cereal," he tells his colleagues over a bowl, “is you’re eating and drinking at the same time, with one hand." Cabana may not have Kellogg for a last name—his boss Edsel Kellogg is played by Jim Gaffigan—but he’s the one with the eye on the breakfast ball, the one giving industry awards to himself and the one who looks at a box of “Fruit Loops" and declares that “Fruit" should be spelt with two Os.

Branding and advertising, in fact, is a huge part of Unfrosted. The film’s best gag comes when two Madison Avenue advertising executives show up to present a branding solution for the new goo-filled breakfast dingus. This is when Jon Hamm and John Slattery of Mad Men show up, confusing the Kellogg’s executives by sexualising their sales pitch. Seinfeld is flummoxed when Hamm, in distinct Don Draper style, talks about “family" but then brings up “one satin negligée" and “one red polished nail." It’s a spot-on homage to one of modern television’s most loved shows, and Hamm channels the Carousel episode of Mad Men as he waxes eloquent about cereal.

Yet the ad-men miss the brief. Hamm pitches for the product to be called Jelle Jolie—like the Belle Jolie lipstick from Mad Men—and suggests two variants, a chocolate Jelle Jolie Noir, and a more adult Jelle Jolie Sensual—“without a packet for those who dare," says Hamm, as Draper as can be. “Because his pleasure is also hers."

“That’s not true," pipes up Melissa McCarthy as Donna Stankowski, an imagineer putting together the Pop-Tart project. Cabana has lured her away from Nasa and now she’s sitting at Kellogg’s, reading Mad magazine and saying, “Boy, they don’t pull any punches." Stankowski is a fun character, and according to her colleague Thurl Ravenscroft, she looks like a telephone.

The increasingly delightful Hugh Grant plays the bitter Ravenscroft, a Shakespearian actor who now reluctantly wears the costume as Kellogg’s mascot Tony the Tiger. He doesn’t like the furry suit or the lack of gravitas, but once somebody mentions his one-man show of 12 Angry Men, he is roused by thoughts of revolution. He’s basically an Oompa Loompa again, orange and angry and exploited by someone making sweets for children. Grant leans gamely into the hamminess, and I do wish someone would give him the Al Pacino role in a Dick Tracy remake.

Plot? What plot? This is the kind of movie where Peter Dinklage heads up the milk mafia, a young girl looks and dresses like a Cabbage Patch Doll, and Bill Burr plays John F. Kennedy. With all its cameos, Unfrosted reminded me of the Weird Al Yankovic biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video), but that was a far sharper, funnier film. Unfrosted should have been cleverer. The premise wears thin soon enough—even though the cast soldiers on—and Seinfeld better be done with his breakfast obsession. Now it’s beginning to feel like Kenny Banya’s endless Ovaltine routine.

Nevertheless, I laughed. Like the prize inside a box of cereal, this film is a treat that makes no sense. The abject pointlessness might be the point. What could be cornier? What could be flakier?

Raja Sen is a screenwriter and critic. He has co-written Chup, a film about killing critics, and is now creating an absurd comedy series. He posts @rajasen.

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